When you’re not sure what you have to offer

"What's in your hand?"

“What’s in your hand?”

I recently sat with a friend of mine to talk about his career. He’s well-educated, has deep knowledge of a complex business, and has done work with many African countries. He’s married, raising kids, and loves music. And he’s also smart, funny, and a good conversationalist.

And yet when I asked him about networking, he was uncertain about what he had to offer.

Why would someone with so much think they didn’t have enough to offer? Because, like many people, he was simply thinking  too narrowly about what he could contribute to others.

Most people have an incredible array of gifts. They just don’t know it. So, whether you’re trying to meet someone or just working out loud, here’s a different way to think about what you have to offer.

“What’s in your hand?”

I’m not a religious person, but in watching old TED talks I came across Pastor Rick Warren’s talk from 2006. And he asked some questions that stuck with me.

In his talk he tells the story of how Moses is depicted in “The Ten Commandments”. How, when Moses first meets God in the burning bush, God asks him:

“Moses, what’s in your hand?” 

Moses is holding a shepherd’s staff, a symbol of Moses’ identity and career, a symbol of his assets, and a a symbol of his influence. Throughout the movie, Moses uses the simple staff to work miracles as he leads his people from slavery. And as Rick Warren talks to various groups around the world, including the TED audience, he asks them:

“What’s in your hand?”

“What do you have that you’ve been given?”

“What are you doing with what you’ve been given?”

20 gifts you’re holding right now 

As I listened to that story I was struck by how most of our gifts are, indeed, right within our grasp. They’re things we take for granted because we feel everyone has them. And so we underestimate their value.

When Dale Carnegie wrote about the best approach to building relationships, he didn’t mention wealth or highly specialized skills. He talked about things that anyone could do.

“Give honest and sincere appreciation.”

Become genuinely interested in other people.”

“Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.”

“Be a good listener. Encourage other people to talk about themselves.”

“Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.”

So here are 20 things you hold in your hand right now. 20 valuable things you can do for others.

  1. Listen.
  2. Care.
  3. Show empathy.
  4. Be vulnerable (and thus allowing others to be vulnerable).
  5. Recognize others (pointing out their work, positive qualities, and other contributions).
  6. Appreciate others (e.g., with a public thank you, one of the most underused gifts).
  7. Offer your encouragement.
  8. Offer your support.
  9. Share entertainment you’ve enjoyed.
  10. Share resources – books, presentations, articles – you’ve found useful.
  11. Offer introductions to people you know.
  12. Ask questions (and thus allowing someone else to help).
  13. Answer questions.
  14. Offer your feedback.
  15. Share your ideas.
  16. Share what you’ve learned.
  17. Share your work experiences, especially mistakes.
  18. Share your life experiences, especially challenges (family, health, travel, education).
  19. Offer your skills.
  20. Offer your time.

“What are you doing with what you’ve been given?”

Notice how simple these are. Yet think of the last time someone really listened to you. Really paid attention. How did that make you feel? Or when someone let their guard down and was vulnerable. How often does that happen?

These 20 gifts are the kinds of things Keith Ferrazzi had in mind when he said “The currency of networking isn’t greed, it’s generosity.”

Don’t let a narrow view of what you have to offer stop you from giving. Think broadly and in a human way about all that you have in your hand. And share it.


About John Stepper

Driving adoption of collaboration and social media platforms at Deutsche Bank. (Opinions here are my own.)
This entry was posted in Self awareness and improvement, Working out loud and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to When you’re not sure what you have to offer

  1. Tom Ledford says:

    This is such a wonderful blog post, I read it to my Dad. He said, “If that fellow isn’t religious, he sure is spiritual.” Thank you for sharing it with both of us. ~ inspired

  2. Marie-Louise Collard says:

    Thanks John for your motivating and inspiring blog 🙂

    Do you think people are “uncertain about what they have to offer”
    Or are they uncertain about how to express it and share it with others in a public arena? Are they lacking the courage that is so often taken for granted in a networked world to display their gifts and talents in a way that they feel plausible and laudable to an audience. A display that they may deem to carry risks?
    Is it not easier to listen, care,empathise, recognise,support, appreciate,encourage , ask questions
    But an altogether harder task to openly share your own thoughts,experiences, challenges and mistakes?
    perhaps it’s the difference between “giving” and “sharing”.

    Great post.

    • John Stepper says:

      Hello, Marie-Louise and thank you. Yes, not knowing what you have to offer is just one of several barriers to contribution. Fear is certainly another. Knowledge or comfort with the tools and practices (and etiquette) is yet another.

      It’s easy for me to underestimate these challenges, but the overwhelming participation inequality online (at work and also on the internet) is evidence enough that they’re formidable.

      ps If natural introversion is a barrier, this might help:


  3. Marie-Louise Collard says:

    Thanks John – I appreciate your response !
    To me “Introversion” suggests something different including an inability to relate to the external social and physical environment with any ease. But as you say (in the linked post) working out loud is not about “you” (the person), but your work and even the most extrovert can have trouble with articulation of purpose that will add value to the wider world.
    Working out loud requires more than introversion or extroversion – but the courage of your convictions, an acquired skill, an ability to write and above all a momentum and stamina to last beyond the first or second post! All of that can seem formidable – even if you know you may have something to offer. 🙂

    Thank you

  4. Newidad@aol.com says:

    Hi John — this is useful and timely as I start a new job tomorrow working for the CEO of a quantitative trading company in Stamford — WorldQuant who separated from Millennium Partners in 2007. Best wishes Michael Norwich

  5. Eric says:

    Yes. Great column. This might in its entirety not only get you through life but get you a good life.

  6. YemiO says:

    That’s a thought provoking post. I watched Rick Warren’s talk after that – a powerful talk that touched on a number of universal truths.

    One of the issues that can create uncertainty about what one is good at is an inability to evaluate strengths. Many people who are good at something feel that they aren’t because they have set themselves a higher bar. Many times I’ve come across a person who thinks that they are, say untidy, who is tidier than most other people. Recently I was talking to a woman who confessed to having being worried she was stressing too much about her first pregnancy. She is one of the calmest, happiest, helpful and competent people – the kind of person you come away from feeling better for no immediately apparent reason – and she feels that she isn’t in control and stresses! I confess I’ve fallen into this trap myself and only realised some of my strengths when pointed out by others.

    This is possibly linked to a natural human trait to focus more on the negative. Sometimes it is easy to focus on the one failure and how to fix it rather than acknowledge the great number of successes. Techniques or practices such as mindfulness can assist in redressing this balance – maybe a post on how to get past negativity and be more balanced?

  7. John LaRocca says:

    Johnny, very provocative post. Thank you for sharing your insight. Much to think about.

  8. regissocial says:

    I came to this post from seeing it referenced in a group on LinkedIn. A timely post to read! Thank you for this; I especially like the statement that generosity is the currency of networking. Too often, that may be forgotten

  9. Latha says:

    Its simply superb. People generally don’t think this much deep, when time comes to serve some one simply escape by saying am not having enough to serve in terms of money & reputation. But its really wonderful inward journey to find the resources with in with out taking much risk or facing any loss to serve one. And also improve our own self. wonderful article though it seems very simple.

  10. Pingback: Working Out Loud: the 12-week program | johnstepper

  11. Terry Faulkner says:

    Really appreciate your thoughts here John. I am reminded that if I have the intention, that I can give a gift with every interaction.

  12. Pingback: Deepening relationships through contribution | johnstepper

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